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So far, we’ve generally argued that given the weirdness of these play-ins, the relative depth of the forward corps, and Corey Crawford returning from COVID-19, the Hawks could squeak out a win in this series-that-shouldn’t-be against an extremely top-heavy Oilers squad. But if you’re looking for an abandon all hope kick in the crotch, you’ll find it in the special teams matchup.

Oilers Power Play and Penalty Kill

PP%: 29.5 (1st)

PK%: 84.4 (2nd)

Edmonton has the best power play percentage among all NHL teams by far. They’ll typically ice McDavid and Draisaitl on the first unit, along with RNH, Alex Chiasson, and Oscar Klefbom. Athanasiou and Yamamoto feature on the second unit, with Nurse, Bear, and James Neal.

We’re sort of at a loss for words about what a hot bucket of enema-induced diarrhea this matchup is going to be. The thought of McDavid and Draisaitl finding ice time against Slater Koekkoek or Olli “Buyout” Maatta is dreadful. There likely isn’t a faster or more offensively talented two PP units in the game. I guess we can rest assured we likely won’t see much of the second unit?

The Oilers penalty kill was also close to the top of the league. The PK units themselves aren’t anything to write home about, with Klefbom, Riley Sheahan, Nurse, Bear, the enormous Jujhar Khaira, and Josh Archibald taking primary PK responsibilities.

It’s their goaltending that’s done the heavy lifting on the PK. Sike Mmith has managed to put up a better save percentage on the PK (91.8%) than at 5v5 (90%). What an asshole. Mikko Koskinen is no slouch on the PK either, boasting a strong 90.1%. So, even if the Hawks can find a way to enter the zone (and they won’t), they’ll come up against the best PK goalie tandem in the game. Joy.

Hawks Power Play and Penalty Kill

PP%: 15.2 (28th)

PK%: 82.1 (T-8th)

The Hawks power play is and always will be a drooling dog’s sore dick. There’s little point in getting wound up about it anymore, but you can bet your ass we’ll be red and nude when we see it. They’re going to look foolish and will likely give up at least one shorthanded goal, and it’ll probably be to James Neal, who will score it by barreling into Crawford, whose head will then fall clear off and float down the Rogers Place River.

If there’s anything the Hawks can hope for, it’s that some combination of Toews, Kampf, Carpenter, Saad, Murphy, and Keith can minimize any damage McDavid and Draisaitl will set up. The true nightmare will be Murphy tweaking his groin, de Haan not being able to shake off the rust, and the top PK minutes going to Maatta.

As with 5v5 play, David Kampf will need to play an outsized role in shutting down McDavid if the Hawks will have any hope at keeping Edmonton’s PP at bay. Any extended time on the PK will also eliminate the slight depth advantage the Hawks have at forward, with Toews and Saad typically taking second unit duties.

Advantage: Oilers by a mile

It’s simple: If the Hawks find themselves on the PK any more than three times in a game this series, they will lose that game. On average, the Hawks found themselves shorthanded slightly under three times a game during the regular season. With a sizeable speed disadvantage, along with four months of rust, don’t be surprised to see the Hawks marching to and from the box more often than they did in the regular season. If that happens, they’re fucked.

Forwards Preview

Defense Preview

Goalies Preview

Coaching Preview

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vs.

RECORDS: Oilers 36-23-8   Hawks 30-28-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

SO VERY COLD: Oilers Nation

I suppose this is something of the pivot game for the Hawks. You would assume, though that could be a very silly thing to do, that they’ll get the win in Detroit tomorrow night that’s on offer for everyone. Another embarrassing effort against the Blues waits on Sunday (there’s been three already). But the Hawks can turn that into something of a free hit with a win over the Oilers tonight. That would also be four wins in row, with a chance of five in Michigan, which would allow the Hawks to say they’re “charging.” That’s if you buy into all this.

Also, the Oilers aren’t a flu-ridden Ducks team missing its top three d-men (who then went on to beat the Avs in Denver last night, because hockey is here to prove your rules are for shit).

That doesn’t mean we can tell you what the Oilers are. We have no idea. We were sure they would have collapsed by now. We thought Mike Smith would sink them. Or McDavid’s injury. Or a complete lack of forwards. Or just being the Oilers. And yet here they are, not only entrenched in the playoff race but only two points behind the Knights for the Pacific lead with a game in hand. Perhaps it’s just the Pacific Division that makes you question the rules you followed.

So what are they doing here. Special teams, special teams, and special teams again. The Oilers power play is clicking at 30%. They have the second-best penalty kill in the league. They have 56 power play goals, and 30 power play goals against. When you win the special teams battle pretty much every night, you don’t have to be that good at even-strength. And don’t you worry, the Oilers aren’t really.

Then again, it also helps to have two MVP-worthy players centering your top two lines.

The Oilers finally separated Draisaitl and McDavid this year, and have watched Draisaitl carry the team in McDavid’s absence and become the front-runner for the Hart himself. He leads the league in scoring by 13 points…over McDavid. He’s on pace to blow by Kucherov’s 128 last year, which we thought was a number that came from the moon then. And McDavid is McDavid. Seeing as how they’re going to the playoffs, you’d be hard-pressed to find an opposing blue line that would be looking forward to this challenge.

The Oilers sought to shore up their pretty sad forward situation at the deadline by bringing in Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis, who apparently that guy who plays for all teams at pickup games in any sport. Raise your hand if you knew Ennis was still in the league. He wasn’t, he was in Ottawa. Anyway, he’s currently getting the sweetheart spot of playing alongside McDavid.

Which puts McDavid in the strange spot of being the line you don’t worry about as much. Since RNH-Draisaitl-Yamamoto have been put together they’ve kicked a hole it he world. Athanasiou is currently being used to give the bottom six anything resembling a pulse, so it’s a stronger outfit than the Hawks couldn’t overcome last time they met. And that one didn’t have McDavid, which kicked off that horror show Western Canada swing.

No changes for the Hawks tonight, and nor should there be. CCYP is making noise about starting Crawford in both halves of this back-to-back, but you’d think there couldn’t possibly be a softer landing for Malcolm Subban to make his Hawks debut than against former-Scum.

The Hawks couldn’t deal with the Oilers power play last time, so it will be imperative to stay out of the box as much as possible tonight. No one can deal with this power play. But hey, the Preds stayed out of the box pretty much against this team on Monday, and they gave up seven even-strength goals. So yeah.

But if the Hawks want to claim they have one last charge in them, and they’re on it now, they have to get this one.

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There’s a statistical quirk to Leon Draisaitl’s league-leading points-total (85). The German has a chance to be the first player to lead the league in scoring while being a minus-player, as he’s currently -11, since Wayne Gretzky pulled it off 28 years ago with the Kings. Does it mean anything? No, probably not, but it’s fun to think about. And it’s fun to dig deeper into.

First off, Draisaitl’s -11 is something of a false flag. The Oilers have scored 51 goals at even-strength when Leon The Ladies Man has been on the ice, and given up 53. He’s had the misfortune of being on the ice for eight shorthanded goals against, which is just kind of the worst luck possible. No one would pin that on a specific player, but certain bad bounces or misplays or a lack of saves.

Still, it’s hard to believe that the Oilers can’t even do better than break even when Draisaitl or even Connor McDavid are on the ice, which gives you some indication of just how big of a talent drop-off there is from them to the rest of the Oilers. For comparison’s sake, both McDavid and Draisaitl are in the top-ten for the amount of goals scored at evens when they’re on the ice, but they’re the only ones who don’t have a significantly positive goals-percentage for that work (Panarin leads with a 59-31 split).

It’s easy to point to the .897 SV% the Oilers get when Draisaitl is on the ice and say that’s the culprit right there. And it sure explains most of it. And if you dip into expected-goals, trying to measure the kinds of chances they’re producing, Draisaitl is again in the top-ten. But he’s also in the bottom-five in expected goals against, which has nothing to do with his goalies (so’s Patrick Kane, in case you want to detect a pattern). Now, you’d probably say the Oilers would be content just trading chances when Draisaitl and/or McDavid are on the ice, given that they’re always more likely to bury more of them than the opposition. But that hasn’t really happened, as we’ve seen, thanks to their goaltending. Both McDavid and Draisaitl have seen more pucks go into the net than they “should” have, given the expected numbers. But again, if everything was working out as it “should” the Oilers would still be just about even with them on the ice.

Another strange quirk is that no one’s metrics seem to get that much worse away from Draisaitl than they do with him. Some of that is that when they’re not on the ice with him, they’re on the ice with McDavid, and that will always even things out for just about anyone that can stand up in a pair of skates. Still, see for yourself:

Leon Draisaitl – Teammates – On Ice – Natural Stat Trick

When you get to relative metrics, Draisaitl is behind the team-rate, though in the past he’s had some years significantly ahead of it when it comes to expected goals.

All of it makes for a slightly more muddled picture than we might have thought before. Here’s a player that is consistently in the top five in scoring in the league, and this year he’s done it with a fair amount of time at center away from McDavid. The Oilers are in the playoff chase for once, so it would seem pretty clear that Draisaitl is a league-foundational piece. And yet you look a little deeper, and also consider how the Oilers have gone nowhere almost all the time, and it feels like a ton of scoring that’s just spinning wheels.

Now, put a real goalie behind Draisaitl and he’s probably +20 and the Oilers would be running away with the Pacific. Or maybe a defense that could limit chances would help. But it’s fun to consider what is actually going on instead of what we’re told surface numbers mean.

Hockey

vs

Game Time: 7:30PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, SportsNet 1, WGN-AM 720
Royal Oil: Copper ‘n Blue, Oilers Nation

As the homestand nears its halfway point the Hawks still find themselves winless on the season, and the schedule has done them zero favors with a very early season tilt against the suddenly shit-hot Oilers and arguably the fastest player in the history of the game.

Hockey

And now this disaster. I was thinking earlier this morning that there really isn’t a parallel to the Oilers wasting one of the best players of all-time for years, but of course there is. It’s the Anaheim Angels. Mike Trout appeared in the playoffs once, and his team has been weighed down by incredibly bad contracts and journeymen and kids who were never up to it. And the same goes for Connor McDavid. Other than Leon Draisaitl, they’ve been surrounded be either old trash or kids that just haven’t popped the way it was thought (looking at you directly, Darnell Nurse). And this season doesn’t look to be any different. We can only hope this is the one where McDavid snaps and demands a trade midseason or in the summer, to give us some proper drama.

Let’s get through it together:

2018-2019

35-38-9  79 points (6th in Pacific)

2.79 GF/G (20th)  3.30 GA/G (25th)  -42 GD

47.9 CF% (25th)  46.6 xGF% (26th)

21.2 PP% (9th)  74.8 PK% (30th)

Goalies: Sweet Jesus God. As we said with the Flames preview yesterday, the two Alberta teams pulled an indirect goalie switch, with Mike Smith, his .900 SV%, and his cantankerous nature landing behind an even worse defense than the one he had in Calgary that had him throwing whatever he could fit under the bus. Won’t his go well? Smith had a promising playoff performance while under constant carpet-bombing from the Avalanche, but that won’t be a worry here. Though the carpet-bombing might be. Smith is also 37, and I guess the hope here is that being reunited with coach Dave Tippett will help them rekindle the sporadic and greatly overblown success they had in Arizona. Good luck.

Backing him up is Mikko Koskinen, who earned a three-year extension from Peter Chiarelli, which must have been the last straw as Chiarelli was fired the very next day. Which might lead one to ask how you’re letting a GM you want to shitcan sign anyone to an extension, but keep in mind EdMo is where logic freezes and then is pissed on for sport. Koskinen’s .906 last year really inspired the masses, and as he’s 31 now there’s little reason to think it’s going to get much better. Sure, Tippett can batten down the hatches and try and create trench after trench in front of him. But with this outfit, what would that matter. Fun fun fun!

Defense: The “definition of insanity” quote isn’t actually real. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results just makes you the Oilers. So once again, these clowns are going to roll out Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning, and even Brandon Manning, and then be truly perplexed why McDavid is bringing a machete to the dressing room that he keeps sharpening and whispering something about the time of purification being at hand.

Nurse just has never blossomed into the atom-smashing, puck-moving loudmouth he promised as a junior, and is basically just kinda there. Klefbom, while allowing for a bunch of Tom Jones jokes, is just an ok possession-driver. Larsson is great at putting all his equipment on. The rest you know. They must hope Evan Bouchard can stick this time, though he seems to be a bit of a plodder and will need to quicken up to be effective at this level. Ethan Bear is going to keep Bouchard in the AHL for now, along with something called Joel Persson, because you always want to trust 25-year-olds making their NHL debut to really impact your roster. The hope must be for Bouchard to bludgeon the AHL for half of a season and then be up.

Forwards: Zack Kassian is going to be on McDavid’s line. I don’t know what more I have to say.

Once again, the Oilers will keep having the debate of whether Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins should play center or be moved to McJesus’s wing to give him any talent to play with, and once again there really won’t be a right answer. They’ve reassembled the bad parts of the 2015 Wings with Riley Sheehan and Tomas Jurco here, and remember that Wings team sucked. James Neal escaped his hell in Calgary to stand still and fire here with whatever passes McDavid or Draisaitl can get him. Which should actually work for 20-25 goals or so.

Sam Gagner has come home again, even though you were pretty sure he was dead. Tippett will find a way to keep Kailer Yamamoto off this roster, even though it could use all the dash it can find.

Prediction: This is where I’m supposed to say that Tippett will tighten things up and at least lower their goals against to keep them competitive for a while. But Ken Hitchcock couldn’t do it, and that’s all he does. And Todd McLellan is no idiot and he couldn’t either. Even if you trusted the goalies, which you shouldn’t, the defense has no top pairing player anywhere. Maybe if Tippet is finally the one to unlock Nurse, things could improve. But how many coaches is it going to take?

Tippett surely isn’t known for getting max scoring out of a team, and this team was short on scoring even with McClavicle, RNH, and Leon The Ladies Man. They still think Kassian can do anything. Neal might pop for a few goals, but not enough. They’re simply miles behind Calgary, Vegas, and San Jose, and you can’t see them running with any wildcard contender either. It’s another lost season up in EdMo, barring some miracle.

Save yourself, Connor. No one else here will.

Everything Else

It was worrisome for a minute, but then the Blackhawks remembered they were playing the Oilers, and their confidence that they weren’t the shittiest team in the league, or run by the biggest dumbasses in the league, or from the most miserable, cold location in the league managed to just overpower a confused Edmonton team, who also suddenly remembered they were the Oilers. By the end, all Run CMD could do was watch. To the bullets!

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

– Things started well enough but then the last half of the first period went to shit for the Hawks. They took four straight penalties, some of which overlapped leading to 5-on-3s, and Leon Draisaitl was having his way with the Hawks, scoring two goals in about two minutes, both on power plays. The defense looked generally lost, and in particular Seabrook got absolutely smoked by Connor McDavid. I know that’s not shocking and shouldn’t even be news, but in real time it was ugly to watch.

– Prior to the penalties and the Hawks basically falling to pieces for a while, our favorite beneficiary of the Fels Motherfuck, Erik Gustafsson, potted his 11th goal of the year and it came…wait for it…on the power play. We talked about it on the podcast last night, and I’m telling ‘ya, someone is going to take Gus for a real defenseman and if the Hawks play their cards right, they can cash in off the results of this motherfuck. We’ll be waiting by the phone for the kudos and our share of the spoils.

– But enough of all that—five goals in one period! If it had been against any other team I wouldn’t have believed it. But this is the Oilers, and despite Ty Rattie have a good night with three shots, Draisaitl scoring twice and Connor McDavid being Connor McDavid, it still wasn’t enough. And once the Hawks rattled them with Hayden’s goal, a fourth-line goal that was the result of a quick passing play from Marcus Kruger early in the third, the Hawks just kept scoring at will. In fact is was a DLR in the span of one period, and Ken Hitchcock had no idea how to help his team respond. Which is hilarious, except when you think about a generational talent being wasted on this shit organization.

– And I have to say, I’m bummed FOR McDavid. Sure, he makes a shitload of money and no, I’m not actually losing sleep or anything, but it’s hard to see a game like this, and records like what the Oilers have, while also seeing his capabilities and not rue the fact they’re being so blatantly wasted in this mis-managed and poorly coached dumpster fire of a team.

– But before it sounds like this was just another example of the Oilers fucking up royally, let me state for the record that the Hawks got their shit together and played better as soon as the second period started. They came back from the first intermission being on the PK but killed off the last of that string of penalties, and they bounced back from being underwater in possession in the first period to a 60 CF% for the second. The Kane-Toews-Caligula line in particular had a number of strong shifts in the offensive zone. Ward had a highlight reel save against Rattie to keep it 2-1. They played WELL during the second and just carried that into the third, which is when it translated into goals.

– The second line looked really good tonight as well. They only scored one goal (only! We can say only one because there were so many!), but they had a 67 CF% and had strong shifts all night. And not only did Dominik Kahun get an assist on Strome’s goal, he got one of his own in the barrage later in the third period.

– You know I love to complain about the defense, but get this: every Hawks defenseman had a 50 CF% or better, and as a team they only gave up 27 shots tonight. Despite the incident of McDavid lighting Seabrook on fire, and some early struggles during the bad half of the first, this was actually a relatively competent defensive effort. Is this the end of days?

So here we are talking about the Blackhawks being three points out of a playoff spot. Let that insanity sink in. To be completely honest, I don’t think this is actually a playoff team, and what we’re seeing is them benefiting from shitty opponents, a good power play, Patrick Kane, and a large dose of luck. But whatever, they’re on a hot streak right now and are beating the teams they should be beating. So I’m not going to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, and let’s enjoy it while it lasts. Because it won’t last. Onward and upward!

Beer de Jour: Slalom King, Crystal Lake Brewing

Line of the Night: “The senior citizen behind the Oilers bench…” –Foley, attempting to throw shade at or be polite to Ken Hitchcock, I’m still not sure which…

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 20-24-9   Oilers 23-24-5

PUCK DROP: 8pm

TV: WGN

EdMo Dee: Oilers Nation

The Hawks conclude this post-break, three-game road trip in the NHL’s “Beyond The Wall,” the hellscape that is Edmonton, Alberta (I assume). And when I say hellscape, I really mean the team that you’ll find there. Though a city that cold can’t have that much going on, no matter how much oil money flows or freezes in the streets. I’m sure the Hawks will thank the schedule makers for a five-day trip that spans three timezones and a collective temperature of “go fuck yourself.”

You may have heard about the Oilers, Biggest laughingstock in the league, despite having two more points than the Hawks. If the Hawks were to win tonight most Oilers fans would take being level on points with them as rock-bottom, just to give you a clear vision of what the Hawks are right now. Have the best player in the league as well, these Oilers. Can’t seem to make that count. Recently fired their addled GM two years too late. Now everyone is waiting with giddy excitement to see what drunken, near-sighted clown they hire next. He’ll almost assuredly have played on the Oilers in the 80s, because the one time they tried not to do that they ended up with Peter Chiarelli and his bent vision of reality, which basically involved whatever signing caused him to grab his groin aggressively. So clearly they have to go back to what didn’t work before. God bless this organization.

On the ice, the Oilers have center-depth and literally nothing else. Run CMD, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are by far their three leading scorers, and at various times this season have played with each other. Now they’re all back at their natural center positions, but when you look at what surrounds them it’s enough to make your food turn septic in your digestive track.

Milan Lucic is “skating” with McDavid, except you can’t call what Lucic does skating anymore so much as “thrashing about as the air currents push him ever so slightly.” Alex Chiasson is a second-line winger. Jujhar Khaira and Zack Kassian are somehow on a NHL third-line together instead of loading up on Skittles at a truck-stop somewhere during an AHL bus ride. “Putrid” doesn’t even come close to starting to describe this, and now you know why they are where they are. They’ve broken Jesse Puljujarvi, if he was anything to begin with, and he’s skating with Kyle Brodziak and Brad Malone in a chilling vision of what the future as a tomato can will look like.

It’s not any better on the back end. This is a team that traded FOR Brandon Manning, remember. And he plays. Adam Larsson is parading around the top pairing with a Kings castoff. Darnell Nurse will occasionally flash the modern-Pronger bit we thought he was destined for, and then remembers he’s spent almost all of his career with Kris Russell and retreats into sadness done in blue and orange again. Andrej Sekera wanders the arena looking for whatever fell off of him this week. It’s bleak.

And when the Oilers have threatened to be good in the past, it was because Cam And Magic Talbot could bail them out. He hasn’t this year, and this is where they are. They’re trusting Mikko Koskinen, a 30-year-old whose flights got crossed up and ended up signing here from the KHL rather than try and figure out how to rebook. In Chiarelli’s final act of lunacy, he re-signed Koskinen for three years to kind of just stand there, which is what he does. But his .908 is better than Talbot’s .893.

The Oilers tried to salvage this by hiring Ken Hitchcock midseason, because his track record of success is so blaring over the past 12 years. They’ve gone 14-14-4 with Hitch, a massive improvement over the 9-10-1 they managed with Todd McLellan. You know it’s bad when Hitch is longing for Jay Bouwmeester and Alex OrangeJello again. He gave up his Civil War reading for this?

This is maybe the biggest mess in the league, and whatever stooge they install as GM is going to find it nearly impossible to extricate. There’s barely any money coming off the books in the summer, really only Talbot’s $4M+ hit. And this team has no wingers. Lucic is in Seabrook territory at this point, and Kris Russell isn’t far behind. That is if the Oilers were inclined to move Russell, but they still seem oddly infatuated with him, mostly to sneer at most of the hockey world pointing out he sucks.

And really, that’s all the Oilers have been for nearly three decades now. Most of the hockey world has been pointing out they suck since 1991, and they still point and gloat about five Cups won before most of you could form a sentence. They’re convinced that run that started 35 years ago still makes them ahead of the game and won’t hear otherwise. This organization has accomplished exactly dick since their glory days, save one goofed Final appearance the first year of the lockout when nothing made sense and is something Chris Pronger clearly erased from his memory (the Blues traded him for Eric Brewer, by the way. Take a moment to think about that).

Anyway, tonight’s challenge is simple enough. Hitch will throw McDavid out against Keith and Seabrook as often as he can, unless he still thinks it’s 2013, and he might. Failing that, Forsling and Gustafsson will be similarly tortured. If the Hawks can somehow keep McJesus on a leash, they should have a good chance at this one. The Oilers recently gave up four power play goals in a game, so the Hawks’ PP should barely be able to keep from slobbering when they get their chance.

As for the Hawks, no word yet on who starts but one would hope Delia gets wheeled back out there. Ward’s had two decent starts in a row though and we know Coach Cool Youth Pastor will shit himself if he has to tell any veteran other than Chris Kunitz anything bad, so you never know. Perlini should stay in ahead of Kunitz, but that’s about it.

As we said at the weekend, the schedule is pretty shitty now, so if the Hawks are insistent on chasing playoff spots that don’t really matter, this is where they’ll make their run. With the Canucks and Wings at home next, they could actually put together a substantial winning streak. Then again, this is just about the same outfit that got worked by the Wings at home last year. The Hawks have lost to the Oilers twice already this season, but hey, they’re both under .500 so maybe they’re not good enough to beat anyone three times.

We’re in this together.

 

Game #54 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Matt Henderson is one of the writers at Oilersnation.com. You can follow him on Twitter @archaeologuy. 

So the Oilers finally got around to firing Peter Chiarelli. Is there genuine hope now? Or is the fear he may have broken this thing beyond repair? What can a new GM conceivably do immediately?
Hope is hard to kill and the Oilers still have McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH, and Klefbom. It’s not many pieces, but the high end talent is there. I don’t think the team is broken beyond repair, however, it’s going to take a lot of work to remove the anchors that Chia added. Russell and Lucic make up $10M on the Cap and they’re 3rd pairing/line quality at best. The new GM needs to start finding reasonable talent on the wings and a right shot defender to keep Bouchard pushed down the order.
Did Cam Talbot simply die of exhaustion?
I wish I could reasonably explain goalies. They’re weird. I don’t think it’s exhaustion. At least not from playing. His twins were born and his game disappeared. My guess is the changes to his life have more to do with the erosion of his play than because he played too many games. It’s jut a guess though. Goalies are Voodoo.
We always ask about him, because we were fascinated by what he could be, but what has Darnell Nurse looked like under Ken Hitchcock? Is he just never going to be the world-altering beast we thought?
I don’t think he’ll be a world altering beast, but he’s played reasonably well under Hitchcock. Because Klefbom has been hurt it’s forced him into the PP and he’s been picking up points at a solid rate. He has better tools than a lot of players. He’s a plus skater and has a mean streak. I think he’ll be a great 2nd pairing defender. I don’t think that’s a knock on him. If he wants to take the next step he needs to keep working on his outlet passing. He usually skates it out but if the passing improves he could unlock that next level.
What’s the deal with Jesse Puljujarvi? The Oilers seem intent on keeping him in the AHL but Oilers fans tend to think he’s getting screwed a bit. 
I’m a big Jesse Puljujarvi fan. He’s a bit like Nurse in that he has unreal physical tools. The Oilers unquestionably screwed up with his development. He never should have seen regular NHL time until this season but the Oilers started the clock on his ELC and his UFA status when he was 18. He ought to have been in the AHL playing 18-22 minutes a night in a top line role learning how to be an offensive difference maker in North America. He has some bad habits that need to be fixed like shooting from way too far out on the rush, but he also has solid defensive awareness. I can’t tell you what his ceiling is anymore, but I think he can still turn into a solid top-six winger.
How does this all play out? Do the Oilers make a deal at the deadline and make the playoffs? Or just more a mess?
Anything can happen, but I fail to see how this team makes the playoffs. If they are trading at the deadline it should be as sellers. If they can move salary from next year out while keeping that small core intact then that’s a huge plus. This team is closer to Jack Hughes than they are being a legit playoff team. If that changes then something miraculous happened.

 

Game #54 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 6-4-3   Oilers 6-4-1

PUCK DROP: 8pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THEY’RE STRANGELY LIT, TOO: None, Oilers blogosphere is fucking touched, man

I suppose the good thing about an NHL season is after you cough up a confused kitten one night against a dog-ass team there’s a chance to put it right the next night. Except now you’re tired and the other team isn’t and you’re throwing your backup goalie out there on the road. And even though you got a decent performance out of him last time against this very opposition, there’s only so many times you can hit on Cam Ward before you go bust (are we still doing phrasing?) Whatever, that’s the spot the Hawks find themselves in tonight as they traipse eastward from the coast to the oil-rich darkness of the northern half of Alberta.

I can’t add much to what Hess said last night, other than to echo the unacceptable nature of last night’s loss. That’s a team aching to be beat that they took the lead on twice, and you have to have that. And getting railroaded in the 3rd smacked of complacency, and whoever let this team think they were anywhere near good enough to be complacent at any point in a game needs to be hit with a large-mouth bass. Hopefully that point has been made clear to the players, or will be before they take the ice tonight.

We won’t get word until they show up if Patrick Kane is going to play, but knowing his nature if he’s able to stand and hasn’t vomited in the five minutes before warm-up he’s probably going to. If he doesn’t, look for the same lineup as last night with Chris Kunitz filling in on the second line and the accompanying feeling of helplessness in a cold and unforgiving world. If Kane does play, I would imagine Kampf gets the suit for the night, but could see Kruger or Hayden doing so as well.

Brandon Manning‘s “Battle Of The Network Stars” reenactment for the blind last night should result in him…well, it should have resulted in him being catapulted into the Pacific but short of that Jan Rutta could easily draw back in at his expense to pair with Brandon Davidson. EAT ARBY’S.

The Oilers come in on something of the same roll they were on when these two last debated various musical topics last Sunday, though in the interim they dropped a 4-3 decision to the Wild in Minnehaha. Even in that they tossed 37 shots at Devan Dubnyk and he did Dubnyk things, so they’re playing quite well. After being McDavid And The Pips for the season’s opening weeks, they’ve gotten a surge from Leon Draisaitl‘s line and a smattering of help from others. If they do that then they’re close to a decent team. McDavid will always make sure they don’t suck.

In Edmonton, you can be sure that Todd McLellan is going to keep McDavid far away from Jonathan Toews, who had him basically pocketed all of Sunday evening. At least until overtime, which doesn’t count anyway. The thought of Run CMD lining up across from any of Artem Anisimov or SuckBag Johnson is certainly enough for your discounted Halloween candy to come rushing back out the way it came in in a state of panic. But this is how these things go. The reverse is if Toews can get to see Ryan Strome or Kyle Brodziak more often.

The Hawks closed the book on October, which they played at a 94-95-point pace for the season. That’s just about the minimum it’s going to be for a playoff spot, and that’s being awfully optimistic. As as fun as it was at times and the few signs of hope, the Hawks have to actually pick it up a bit. Not that they can avoid a mud-pit battle royale all season, but it’s a nice thought for now. They lost two points they should have had last night, so they need to start grabbing two points you wouldn’t count on them having beforehand. Maybe tonight isn’t that, but they do have ground to make up.

 

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You’d think if a team somehow hoarded three of the top five picks of any draft year, you’d have a real peach of a team. Hell, even two should do it. That’s what the Sharks did for years with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton who were the #1 and #2 picks in the same draft. But then again, leave it to the Oilers to collect top-five picks from a draft that pretty much sucked. So the Oilers are left with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, and Ryan Strome, and that silly look on their face they’ve had for north of 20 years. Also, the latter two cost them top-10 picks from other drafts, and who were unquestionably better players.

It’s not RNH’s fault he was taken at the top of the 2011 draft. He was the best player in a weak crop. It’s not even the Oilers’ fault. They had the top pick, and they took what was best available. Looking back through it, the best player in that draft turned out to probably be Dougie Hamilton, but you couldn’t get too many sheets of paper between him and anyone else, likely Mark Scheifele. And no one was saying Scheifele or Hamilton should go #1 in that draft at the time. Does anyone trade a #1 pick anymore? Maybe there’s a lesson there.

And Nugent-Hopkins has been fine. More than fine, really. He’s put up solid #2 center numbers pretty much his entire career. Never less than 43 points, never more than 56. On a really good team, which he’s never seen, that’s probably a third center. For the Oilers, it’s been a second, which tells you a lot, and until McJesus showed up a #1 center, which tells you more.

The Oilers probably missed their window to sell high on RNH, if they ever realized he would never live up to his #1 pick billing. That window certainly closed when they handed him $6M over seven years after his entry-level deal expired. But what do you do? You’ve taken this guy #1, McDavid wasn’t anywhere near the scene yet, and you have to look like you know what you’re doing somewhat. We said, “somewhat.”

And now the Oilers are on the brink of making that $6M look very economical, despite themselves, which we have to believe means it was on accident. After handing Leon Draisaitl a huge deal last year, the Oilers knew they pretty much had two #2 centers, and one center who would be far too expensive to be anchoring a third line. Draisaitl is getting the bigger paycheck, so they’ve left him to work out the more valuable role, behind Run CMD. Which means for the first time in his NHL career, Nugent-Hopkins is on a wing. And he seems to be taking to it.

RNH has 13 points in 11 games running with McDavid, as just about anyone would (though the Oilers keep finding players who somehow can’t, a true miracle). He’s never been anything close to a point-per-game as a center, but in that range is the buy-in for a half-decent winger with the best player in the game.

This could work out well for all parties. If RNH were to put up 60 or 70 points this year, that’s well worth $6 million a year. For the two years the Oilers have left to pay him, they would think that’s a good deal. It also might look attractive to other teams, who won’t see much past the point-total and the salary and perhaps not the factors that led to it. After all, very few teams can put a winger with a center anywhere near the quality of McDavid. There’s like three others, maybe. So get ready for an RNH-Kessel trade this summer or something.

It also works out for RNH. He will hit the UFA market at the age of 28 in the summer of 2021, though under a new CBA. After a couple years with McDavid who knows what his numbers could look like, and he can advertise being able to play both wing and center. That’s assuming he doesn’t cash in with the Oilers themselves, but free agents at 28 are still something of a rarity in the NHL. A raise from his current $6M per year should be a kip.

Nugent-Hopkins never turned into the franchise-shifting center a #1 pick suggests. But he was in a year where someone had to have that label. After all this time, both he and the Oilers may finally be maximizing their value to each other.

 

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